In the 2015-16 NBA season, the Golden State Warriors faced a juxtaposition of theories. Some fans and NBA analysts believed that the Warriors winning the 2015 NBA Finals was a fluke and that they wouldn’t be able to repeat the success they had in the 2015-16 season, especially since winning back-to-back titles in the NBA is near impossible. Other fans and analysts believed that after the Warriors won an NBA record 73 games in the 2015-16 regular season, they were the clear favorites to win the 2016 NBA Finals.
Regardless of what the consensus about the Warriors was, their historic success in the regular season was so unprecedented that it was understandable that no one really knew what to expect during the playoffs. Would the Warriors’ magic continue, and would they dominate every opponent they faced to cruise to another title? Would the the Oklahoma City Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs, or potentially the Cleveland Cavaliers be able to stop them at some point?
The answers to parts of these questions are still unknown, but in the Western Conference Finals, the Warriors proved some of their doubters wrong. Some of the noise surrounding the Warriors this season was that they didn’t face much adversity en route to their 73 regular season wins. Not only did the Warriors face adversity in their Western Conference Finals matchup with the Thunder, they overcame it. And made a statement while doing it.
After losing the first game in the series, the Warriors were down 3-1 in the series after the Thunder convincingly won both Game Three and Four on their home court. The Warriors had been down 2-1 in series twice in the 2015 playoffs, but being down 3-1 was uncharted territory, and being down 3-1 to this beast of a Thunder team provided a whole other daunting dimension.
The same people that said the Warriors winning a title last season was a fluke and that like to downplay the Warriors’ success in the 2015-16 season started the chatter that the Warriors were done after going down 3-1 to the Thunder and that after a miraculous regular season, they were choking and even “overrated.”
Only nine teams in the history of the NBA had come back from 3-1 deficits in the playoffs before, so the odds were not in the Warriors’ favor. However, these doubters forgot that no team in NBA history had won 73 games before. This Warriors team has made history before, and they weren’t about to stop now.
The Warriors came back to Oracle Arena in Game Five and won 120-111. Then, they went to Oklahoma City for Game Six for quite possibly their toughest test of the season. They passed the test and won 108-101. After winning, arguably, the toughest game of the season, the Warriors came back home for Game Seven and beat the Thunder 96-88, and they were crowned 2016 Western Conference Champions.
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In addition to dealing with injuries to key players such as Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Andrew Bogut in the playoffs, the Warriors overcame the odds and became the 10th team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit. They made history again.
Not only was the Warriors’ comeback in the Western Conference Finals historic and extremely rare, but it was also impressive because of the way they came back. They made the necessary on-court adjustments, such as improving their shot selection, focusing more on player and ball movement, making a stronger effort on the defensive end, being more aggressive on the boards, etc, but they fought back to win this series because they played as a team, they played with the fun and passion that led them to success in the regular season, and they played with heart.
Their comeback was inspiring and beautiful to watch as a sports fan. It was refreshing, and it was also reminiscent of another Bay Area team that has won a championship or two (or three, in this case) in recent history.
The San Francisco Giants, during their 2012 World Series run, were almost eliminated from the postseason twice. In the NLDS, the Giants fell behind 2-0 to the Cincinnati Reds before winning three games in a row all in Cincinnati. They became the first National League team (and eighth overall in MLB history) to come back from a 2-0 deficit in a divisional five-game series by winning the last three games on the road.
In the NLCS, the Giants faced the St. Louis Cardinals and fell behind 3-1, just like the Warriors. The Giants won Game Five in St. Louis, followed by two wins in Game Six and Game Seven in San Francisco to be crowned 2012 National League Champions (and eventually World Series Champions as well).
The Giants didn’t enter the 2012 season as World Series favorites or even as favorites to make the playoffs, after they missed the playoffs in 2011. The Giants didn’t enter the 2012 season with the same expectations that the Warriors did this season, so the Giants quite possibly faced even more doubt when they went down 2-0 in the NLDS and 3-1 in the NLCS. However, since they didn’t have the type of historic season the Warriors did, they also probably didn’t face quite as much external pressure when they went down 3-1.
Despite these minor differences, both the Giants and the Warriors won their respective series because of their heart and their determination. Both teams had that “never say die” attitude that is hard to overcome when a team has a strong will to succeed no matter what the odds are and when they play as a team and fully trust each other. This is the winning formula that both the Giants and the Warriors utilized to win the 2012 NLCS and the 2016 Western Conference Finals.
In a recent article, Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated described the Warriors’ culture and the type of players that the Warriors have looked for when constructing their championship roster as, “…those flexible enough to play a variety of roles, selfless enough to accept whichever is best for the team, and intelligent enough to maximize those opportunities.”
Flexible. Selfless. Intelligent.
The Warriors are flexible. Their players are versatile, because they can all play several positions, they help their teammates, and they can fill many roles. This aspect makes them harder to guard and is one of their strongest attributes on the court.
The 2012 Giants featured several players who had played a few different roles during their Giants tenure. For example, Tim Lincecum, who had been the Giants’ ace and a starting pitcher for his whole career, came out of the bullpen in the 2012 postseason and dominated. After being left off the 2010 postseason roster, Barry Zito was a key starter for the Giants in the 2012 postseason and provided several clutch outings. Another example is Gregor Blanco stepping up and became an everyday starter after Melky Cabrera was suspended for 50 games for testing positive for using a performance-enhancing drug. The 2012 Giants were flexible.
The Warriors are selfless. Their players are willing to sacrifice playing time, shot attempts, minutes, etc. in order to help the team have success. They don’t care about individual stats or accomplishments. They just want to win as a team.
The 2012 Giants played with one word in mind: together. They all shared the common goal of winning a World Series, but they were going to go about it in the right way. They were going to win together and fight alongside each other until the end. They seemed to have a different “hero” every game, some more unsung than others. It wasn’t always Buster Posey or Hunter Pence or Madison Bumgarner saving the day. It was sometimes Barry Zito, Marco Scutaro, or even Ryan Theriot. The 2012 Giants were selfless.
The Warriors are intelligent. They play to their strengths. They move the ball and play at a quick pace, in order to utilize their three-point shooting and to get everyone involved. Their defense is what drives their offense and gets their transition game going. They force opponents to play their brand of basketball, and that’s how they find success.
The 2012 Giants took advantage of opponents’ mistakes and maximized their opportunities as well. They scored in unconventional ways sometimes, but they found ways to get wins by doing the little things right. Bruce Bochy often out-smarted the opponent’s manager by making smart, tactical pitching changes, pinch-hitting decisions, and defensive replacement decisions. The 2012 Giants were intelligent.
The Warriors and Giants not only have these qualities, but they play and win with heart and character. The Giants even play with these qualities today four years after making two spirited comebacks in the 2012 postseason and winning their second World Series title in three years. The Warriors are now heading to the 2016 NBA Finals and hope to win their second title in two seasons, and what got them to this point is their determination and their ability to stay focused and never give up even when facing adversity.
The Warriors won the Western Conference Finals with their heart. Now it’s time for them to win the NBA Finals in the same fashion.